An Otago University study published in international medical journal The Lancet has revealed that hospital admissions for infectious diseases in this country rose by more than half in the nearly 20 years to 2008 and a top scientist is blaming damp housing, poverty and a lack of primary healthcare.
Fairfax NZ News reported on February 21 that the study’s lead author, Michael Baker, of the university’s medical school in Wellington, was ‘taken aback’, expecting to find increasing rates of chronic diseases like cancer and diabetes, which is usual for first-world countries.
These are still rising but, with 51 percent of hospital admissions for diseases like acute rheumatic fever, pneumonia, skin rashes and meningococcal disease, NZ hospitals carry a double burden. Māori and Pacific people were more than twice as likely as Europeans to end up in hospital with a serious infectious disease.
‘All New Zealanders pay the price of rising infectious diseases,’ Dr Baker said. ‘There are those who are directly affected by these infections. But these contagious diseases affect all sectors of society. The increased rates are adding 17,000 hospitalisations a year and tens of millions of dollars in avoidable healthcare costs.’
Auckland University’s immunisation advisory centre director Nikki Turner said New Zealand differs from other countries apparently because of the rise in socio-economic inequalities in our society. ‘The burden of disease is falling disproportionately on some groups, in particular those from economically poorer environments and certain ethnic groups with Maori and Pacific people carrying a heavy burden.
Auckland University associate professor, paediatrician Cameron Grant, said improving the quality of homes and better nutrition during pregnancy and infancy would help limit infectious diseases in children. ‘Houses in New Zealand are cold, damp and mouldy,’ he said, made worse by smoking in the household and overcrowding.
Shocked into action by Bryan Bruce’s documentary Inside Child Poverty last November, 16-year-old Whangarei girl Jazmine Heka has started a petition on the social networking site Facebook. She is calling for free healthcare for all children, a warrant of fitness for all rental housing and free, healthy school lunches for all children at school.
In her leadership of the group she founded, Children Against Poverty, Jazmine has inspired others to gather signatures for her petition particularly on Facebook where a URL for downloading copies of the petition is published.
Here is one teen prepared to try what many of us have left in the too-hard basket. If we Catholics are serious about the Lenten readings that strongly call us to strive for the Kingdom of God with its peace and justice for all, signing Jazmine’s petition and discussing the conditions that sparked it would be a good start.